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5 Things Managers Say That Leaders Don't

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"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." –Ralph Waldo Emerson

The terms “management” and “leadership” are used interchangeably. But there’s a definite distinction between what it means to manage and what it means to lead.

Managers are known to operate with authority, tend to have a fixed mindset, and focus on tasks, whereas leaders see themselves as partners with their teammates in a shared mission, tend to focus more on outcomes, and feel a sense of duty to inspire and motivate their teams. Leaders have a growth mindset and support autonomy.

Obviously, people want to be led, not managed. And if you’re not sure why that’s so important, here’s an eye-opener: a Gallup poll of over 7,000 people revealed that 50% of employees “left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career." The quality of the relationship between manager and employee has an enormous impact on retention and engagement. People are largely leaving their managers, not their companies.

Managers and leaders tend to show up differently in conversation. Being in the field of leadership training, we at Fierce have observed first-hand what works—and what doesn’t—when it comes to succeeding in leadership. Here are five things managers might say and what leaders are likely to say instead.

1. Managers say: “Here’s what you should do.”

When coaching their teams, managers tend to act as an authority and primary source of knowledge. On the contrary, leaders see value in self-generated solutions and insights. They avoid taking an authoritative stance or dishing out advice. Instead, they let silence do some of the heavy lifting and allow the coachee to draw their own conclusions. Creating this space to explore can lead to higher amounts of intrinsic motivation, a vital component of employee engagement. According to an article from Fast Company, “Intrinsic motivation is what drives a person to do something without any expected reward or external motivation. They are guided and rewarded by their own incentive.”

Leaders say: “What do you want to do?”

2. Managers say: “You’re wrong.”

Discounting another person’s thoughts or feelings can cause them to react defensively. People want their emotions and perspectives validated rather than discounted, even if their perception is the result of a misunderstanding. The concept of right and wrong can be applied practically and objectively when hard data is present (for example, we can safely conclude that the earth is round and not flat), but when it comes to our preferences, our experiences, and our individual opinions, trying to force your own perspective on another person and making them wrong is a surefire way to cause a riff in the relationship. Leaders respect the perspectives of their teammates, even when there’s disagreement.

Leaders say: “I see why you might have that perspective. Here’s how I understood it…”

3. Managers say: “Here’s where you need to improve.”

Managers see feedback as a one-way street. Leaders, on the other hand, understand that they can learn from their team members and that receiving feedback is essential to their growth as a leader. At Fierce, we have these conversations and walk the talk when it comes to giving continuous, two-way feedback, regardless of position within the company, and leadership often requests feedback directly. Although a leader and an employee may have different roles and titles within an organization, leaders perceive themselves as equals on the “human” level and can see beyond titles and labels. They also understand that the feedback they give is a matter of their own perspective rather than a statement of fact.

Leaders say: “Here is the feedback I have for what feedback do you have for me?”

4. Managers say: “Leave your emotions at the door.”

Leaders know that emotions are an important part of both relationships and achieving optimal business results. Emotions are part of our internal guidance system, helping us make better and smarter decisions. A workplace culture that welcomes the expression of emotion also leads to greater levels of trust and transparency. Leaders assist in creating this culture. Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better, has found that “high-performing teams offer both emotional safety and ways for their members to productively disagree: No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘psychologically safe,’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.”

Leaders say: “How are you feeling?”

5. Managers say: “You’re going to have to do better than that.”

Leaders set their employees up for success by finding out what’s needed and how they can assist with meeting those needs. With an air of compassion, they investigate to discover the reasons behind issues such as poor performance to determine the origin of the issue. For example, a miscommunication may have occurred that resulted in a lack of clarity around expectations, or perhaps an employee is facing difficulties outside of work and needs a bit of time and space to take care of the issues at hand.

Leaders say: “How can I support you? What resources do you need to succeed?”

Have you experienced being managed versus led, and vice versa? Likewise, have you managed or led others? Share your experiences with us.


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